Something that strikes me again and again about international adoption is the very big difference in most children after they get home. It is incredible. I saw it in our girls. They came to us from a good foster care situation (they had lived in the orphanage for 5 months and then foster care for 3 months), but there was still a big change when they moved home with us over the next few months. They gained weight, they quickly started crawling then walking, they were more settled and happy. I have seen this happen even more so in other adoptive families that I have been able to know over the past year, especially when the transition is right from orphanage to new family.
A lot of it is belonging to a family, obviously this does amazing things for the child's emotional well-being, ability to attach, form trusting relationships, and develop. So, yes (a big YES), every child deserves a family.
But you know what? I think more than a family even, every child deserves to not live in dire poverty. Millions of children around the world live in dire poverty with their families and they are struggling to survive. Some of these children are relinquished for adoption (or abandoned and then adopted) and then they are taken in by wealthier families in the developed world where they are love, fed, educated, clothed, and cherished. And guess what? These children? They thrive. They grow, they smile, they play, they bloom and blossom. Now, this is not to say that they don't carry of the effects of the poverty (and/or abandonment, lack of attachment, institutionalization, etc.) with them into their new lives (and this can be profound). They do carry it with them. Their pasts are not wiped clean and the effects of poverty (abandonment, chronic malnutrition, abuse...) erased. But overall, these little ones are changed. Yes, by families that love them and that are committed to them and their recovery and that claim them as their own, but also because their lives are so much better. They have food, clothes, clean water, healthcare, education, quality medicine, consistent caregivers, and so on.
Every child deserves these things. Food, clean water, healthcare, education, quality medicine, consistent caregivers, family. Every child deserves to not live in dire poverty that threatens their lives.
Sometimes I look at my girls, and I looks at the kids left behind in Congo. Not only at the orphanage, but the kids who have families, but are in feeding centers, who are suffering because of dire poverty. It's hard not to think, oh, if only I could find homes for all the kids. Look how well they will do, look how great all the adoptive kids are doing that were adopted this past year. Too bad all the kids at the orphanage can't be adopted. It's easy to start thinking like this. Adoption dramatically changes the lives of the one or two children (or three) that are adopted. It feels great to see those kids doing so well! It is great. Yet.
Yet, I can't lose sight of the fact that what most of the children in Congo who are suffering need is not to be adopted, they need to not live in poverty. They don't need a family (they have families). They need food, or education, or medical care. (If they had those things, maybe they wouldn't have been abandoned in the first place). What we are working towards is alleviating the effects of poverty, to raise the general quality of life of the children in Congo. Most children in Congo have families. And a lot of those families can't take care of their children. They can't feed them three times a day. They can't afford to send them to school. They can't afford to pay their doctors fees. They can't afford to buy them medicine. They can't afford to dress them.
But they don't need new families (that have all of this). They need access to affordable food and clothes, access to affordable (or free) education, access to affordable, quality healthcare and medicine, access to clean water, and on and on.
At Save the Children Orphanage in Eastern Congo, most of the children that live there have families. Because of their destitute poverty, the fathers or other family members couldn't take care of them (formula is very expensive) after their mothers died in childbirth so they sent them to the orphanage to keep them alive.
One of my dreams is to try to move to a model at the orphanage where the children move back to their families by age 2 instead of age 5. We'll see. The hard part is that the families are still in dire poverty.
Now, I'm not writing this post to say I am against adoption. Obviously that is not the case as we have two children that are adopted. There are children that need families that do not have them and adoption provides a family for those children. (And yes, we can't solve poverty overnight, and so in the meantime, there are children that need homes.) It's not about those kids (well, maybe it is a little bit). It's about all the rest.
It's about the kids that were living in extreme poverty and were relinquished for adoption because their families couldn't take care of them anymore. It's about the children and their families living in extreme poverty around the world. It's about the children that are abandoned by desperate family members because their situation are so extreme that they couldn't care for them anymore. It's about trying to alleviate poverty that destroys families, communities, and children's lives.
It's about working towards making the world a place where adoptions are no longer needed because families can take care of their children. It's about working towards a world where mothers don't die in birth anymore and their babies are not taken to institutions to survive. It's about working towards a world where these same babies can grow up and go back to their families and be sent to school, be a part of their families, be fed and loved and cared for.
It's about a world where all children have the same opportunities, the same access to food, water, education, family, healthcare, that our kids do right here.
One day at a time.
There are so many wonderful organizations working in eastern DRC doing amazing work. Here are just a few of the 100s. There are large humanitarian organizations like Food for the Hungry, Mercy Corps, World Vision, CRS, Tearfund and many more that do large scale aid and development projects that touch thousands and thousands of lives. There are small organizations like HEAL Africa and Women for Women that are working hard to improve individual lives of women and their families. There are even smaller grassroots organizations like our friends who help street kids by taking them off the streets and transitioning them back home, like our other friends who take in women in crisis and give them skills and training, like more friends who work with traumatized women in war zones, and other friends who start homes to give women a hope and a future.
There is hope. There are ways to help make change happen.